The countdown is running. America will elect a new president in just over a week. Whether it’s the old one, whether Donald Trump gets a second term in office despite all the scandals and a stable backlog in the polls, or whether Democrat Joe Biden defeats him is the question people around the world are currently asking.
If the polls, in which Biden has been more or less clearly in charge for months, were election results, the question would be answered quickly and anyone who fears Trump for four more years would breathe a sigh of relief. But it is not that simple. Because of the American electoral system, voters in a handful of so-called swing states ultimately decide who can rule from the White House for the next four years.
That’s why the candidates and their supporters currently only tour a fraction of the country – the president even holds a meeting at a different location every day. Will that change anything? Time is running out for Trump, at least that’s for sure.
The complicated voting system
The Americans don’t directly elect their president on November 3 – otherwise, Hillary Clinton would have won in 2016 with a lead of nearly three million votes. The voters only determine the so-called electoral college. That happens in the individual states. Each state sends between three and 55 voters to this body, depending on its population.
How these are determined varies from state to state, but usually the ‘winner takes all’ principle applies. This means that the respective winner will receive all the votes available to the state, regardless of the margin with which they won. In this way, the 538 voters have decided to elect the new president in mid-December. The winner is the one who has at least 270 voters.
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In most states it is already clear what the outcome will be. Liberal California – a “Blue State” – will certainly vote for Biden and conservative Alabama – a “Red State” – Trump. That is why, in the final sprint, election campaigners focus on those states in which the polls predict a particularly tight outcome and / or that have continuously shifted back and forth in previous elections.
For example, Trump got all 29 votes in Florida in 2016, even though he won this important swing state only by a margin of 2.2 percentage points. Democrats’ concerns: If Trump manages to narrowly win back in such states, Biden could end up losing despite his lead in the national polls. Like Al Gore in 2000, when the Democrats voted more than half a million more than Republican George W. Bush. But Bush eventually became president after defeating Florida by just 537 votes.
The problem of the electoral college
Due to the complicated American electoral system, not every vote counts equally. Currently, the Electoral Council prefers the Republican Party. Because it doesn’t matter how many millions of people in California or New York vote for Democratic candidate Biden, there are no more than 55 voters per state.
In 2016, Trump won a quarter of his electorate more than 191,000 votes in the four states where the race was closest. In six swing states – Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – he secured 99 voters.
According to Swing States’ critics, the ‘winner takes all’ rule is far too heavy. And there are more people who tend to vote in a Republican way: they tend to be older, white, with a lower level of education – which were Trump’s top voters in 2016.
The survey website RealClearPolitics describes 17 states as swing states, the election blog FiveThirtyEight 16. Most election researchers pay special attention to nine to ten states.
Perhaps the most classic of all swing states is extremely exciting to survey experts. They currently agree: As in the last six elections, which ended three times in favor of the Democrats and Republicans, it will be very close again. In the Sunshine State, there are the super Trump fans in the conservative Northwest corner (“Panhandle”) of the state and a disproportionate number of retirees who prefer warm weather to colder regions year-round and leaning towards Trump – at least to the corona crisis.
The many Latinos in Florida are a diverse group: While many migrants in the south of the state around Miami are closer to the Democrats, migrants who fled socialism in Venezuela and Cuba are considered conservative – and they are very active politically. Those who secure this state and its 29 voters have taken a big step to victory. According to the polls, Biden is currently very close to the Florida front.
But Trump easily leads in Ohio. This Midwestern state has also moved back and forth in the past six elections. In recent years, residents have voted more Republican. While Democrat Barack Obama won here in 2008 and 2012, Trump got 18 voters in 2016.
But since Biden, unlike Hillary Clinton, is also reaching the white working class and older voters, he has a chance. No Republican has become president without winning in Ohio. If Trump loses Ohio, other less conservative states in the Midwest will likely go to Biden as well.
This state, which Trump surprisingly won in 2016, is currently leaning more towards Biden. Here, too, the Democratic candidate is much better received than his predecessor. In addition, he hopes for a lot of support from voters in the suburbs and a high turnout of blacks in Detroit. Here, however, the corona pandemic, which mainly affects African Americans, is a great unknown. 16 electorates are there for the taking.
Ten voters want to secure Biden here after Trump surprisingly won Wisconsin in 2016. The polls are slightly ahead of the Democrats, largely thanks to his big lead in the cities of Milwaukee and Madison. Instead, the rural areas are deep red. It will be interesting to see how the unrest in Kenosha is affecting the elections. Serious riots broke out in the city of 100,000 residents after a police officer shot African American Jacob Blake several times.
Even this industrial state, like Michigan and Wisconsin, which put Trump in power in 2016, has a clear bias toward Biden, according to surveys. His 20 electors can ultimately make the difference when elections are tight. But they can be late because the votes by mail are counted here after all the others.
Since the decision may be made in Pennsylvania, election activists are thronging here. On Wednesday even Obama performed live for the first time during this election campaign in Philadelphia. By the time Trump won, the Democrats had won Keystone State six times in a row.
The rule of thumb is that Biden, who was born here in 1942 in the working-class city of Scranton, has to win so high in the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and their suburbs that it undermines Trump’s victory in the very conservative, rural part of the state, where the craze for the established order is great.
Trump’s victory in this agricultural state in 2016 was overwhelming – he got the six votes by nine percentage points. The fact that the race is near in this conservative state – only in the cities of Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport are the Democrats clearly leading the way – clearly shows the incumbent’s weaknesses.
And that despite Trump’s billions in aid to the farmers. No wonder since he started the trade wars that farmers have suffered. Then there is the pandemic, which is currently getting worse here, as in other “rust belt” states. How the Trump administration dealt with the virus will play a big part in the polls.
Actually, this state is very conservative. In 2016, Trump also won. But now things can get tight, with Realclearpolitics and FiveThirtyEight, Biden is slightly ahead. This is another reason why Trump has already visited five times in the past two months.
Almost all the scenarios of his campaign dictate that he must win this state to secure his reelection. There are 15 votes to be won here. Republicans have won ten of the past twelve presidential elections. Obama surprisingly won in North Carolina in 2008 – for the first time since 1976.
Four years later he lost again to Mitt Romney there. Nevertheless, the state is permanently changing, and similar to the neighboring state of Virginia, in favor of the Democrats. The excellent universities, medical centers and tech companies attract well-educated, ethnically diverse newcomers. Plus, there are many African Americans who traditionally vote democratically – if they do vote. But here too, the rural areas are deep red.
This conservative southern state could also become a swing state after 28 years of Republican rule. The Democrats have long hoped to get the 16 votes here – the last to pass was Southerner Bill Clinton in 1996. In the polls average at Realclearpolitics, Biden leads by a small margin, Trump is a razor thin lead at FiveThirtyEight.
Demographic lines are also shifting in Georgia. The metropolis of Atlanta in particular is growing: in the past ten years from 5.3 to six million inhabitants. More than half of the population in Atlanta is black, and that is just under a third in all of Georgia.
The emerging black middle class is gaining influence – and clearly leaning towards the Democrats. During the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests, African-American mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms became nationally known and was even traded as a possible candidate for Biden vice presidency.
In Grand Canyon State, demographics are also shifting in favor of the Democrats. Even in this basically conservative state, Democrats are waiting for the “blue wrap” – and hope 2020 will happen. In 2018, a Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema, won the Senate race and the party hopes former astronaut Mark Kelly will do something similar this year. Biden leads the presidential race averaging nearly three percentage points in the polls. In 2016, Trump got the eleven votes in Arizona.
Texas is not a classic swing state. The last time a Democrat won here was in 1976. But in the meantime, some observers count the “Lone Star State” among the states in which Biden could have a surprise victory – with 38 voters, after California (55), it stands here. most votes at stake. One reason it could become scarce – as in Arizona – is that the burgeoning population, especially in the metropolitan areas around Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin, is becoming more diverse – and thus more liberal.
Part of this demographic change can be traced back to the immigration of Latinos. But if George W. Bush could tie this to the Republicans in large part, Trump has done a lot of damage with his anti-immigration rhetoric. Whether it will be so far this year that the majority will tip is in any case not out of the question. One thing is for sure, if it came to that, Trump would have lost across the board.
The experts at FiveThirtyEight currently see him here with a three percentage point lead. It is noted with great interest that voters have been able to vote for a week, do so in record numbers and sometimes wait up to ten hours. It is not yet clear whether Biden will use this automatically.